For the better part of my time in Hollywood, I’ve had this scene in my head which was ever in search of a story. From time to time, I would try to build a story around the scene. As it returns to me in the wake of Barack Obama’s bitter remarks (and catching a bit of the excellent but flawed Sweet Home Alabama on cable), I may well have found a story for that scene.
The scene is this: two brothers in their thirties sit on the roof of their childhood home, variously in Omaha, Nebraska or Fargo, North Dakota, each Midwestern cities situated on a river which serves as a state boundary. From their perch, the men could see that river. They used to retreat there as boys when the younger brother (now a New Yorker though in some imaginings an Angeleno) imagined the world beyond which he was eager to explore. The older brother was less curious about the more distant realm, content with the world around him.
In the scene I imagined, they find themselves together on this childhood retreat, together there for the first time in perhaps a quarter-century. Separately, each had left the reception following their father’s funeral. Together, they reflect on their lives.
The older brother, having stayed in their heartland hometown, senses that his younger brother still suffers some unease in the urban mecca to which he trekked after high school graduation. And the younger brother realizes that his elder’s mundane existence which he has so long mocked has afforded him the happiness and peace of mind that has long eluded him.
In most versions of the scene, the younger brother has recently broken up with a girlfriend. In one, he comes to realize that his girlfriend is less interested in him as a person than in his professional success.
The basic point of the scene was that the younger brother, in returning home for his father’s funeral, gains an incredible appreciation for the world he left behind, the values of his childhood peers, the basic decency of middle and lower-middle class Midwesterners.
Occasionally when I develop the scene, I have him returning to New York (or Los Angeles) with a greater appreciation for the Midwest. Today, as the scene returns to me, causing me to turn away from dissertation research, I see the younger brother running into an old high school flame, falling for her and having to choose between marrying her and returning to his job on one of the coasts.
The spirit of classic Hollywood still in me, he remains in the Midwest, marries this divorcÃ©e so he can raise the two sons her husband, their father, abandoned. Thus, the man who came to town to bury his own father is “reborn” as a father to two boys needing the masculine guidance on their journey to manhood.
In a subsequent post, I will relate this scene to Barack Obama’s comments — and what they reveal about the Democratic presidential contender. But, I daresay what I have to say has already been said.